Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ann Arbor is going to the birds. 

Ann Arbor City Council recently approved an ordnance that allows for the keeping of hens inside the city limits. The permit limits homeowners to four, and they must all be hens. Simply put, hens don’t crow. 

(Left( Beautiful Araucans, also known as Easter Egg Chickens. They lay eggs that vary from light brown to blue.)

.Lauren Fetzer, 23, admits- she has been bitten by the chicken bug.  “I am a bona-fide chicken farmer,” she says holding a large, mostly white hen named Mrs. Lakenvelder.

“I never thought I would enjoy this, but we really do enjoy our girls.”

There have only been 11 permits for chickens inside the city limits since June 2008. Given the growing trend towards keeping chickens as backyard pets, it seems likely that Ann Arbor will host more Chicken Farmers as spring approaches. 

Ann Arbor joins several other cities across the US that allows for the keeping of chickens. From New York City, to LA, the movement towards chicken farming has gained momentum in the past several years, with web sites devoted to the keeping of back yard hens gaining members every day.

 K.T. La Bubadie says her site,  gets 500 hits a day, and boasts over 55,000 hits their first year. They have even expanded to a BYC store- with shirts that have sayings such as “chillin’ with my peeps” or “My pet made me breakfast.”

Why has this movement caught on? Some call it the Martha Steward Phenomenon.  Some suspec

t the Martha Stamp has contributed to the interest in keeping chickens. She dedicated a show to keeping chickens, introducing a few of her favorite hens.

Others say it’s the movement back to using food that is organic, and locally grown. 

"All around, we benefit- and I like the fact that our kids will see where their food comes from." says Fetner. The chicks that the Fetner's ordered last year are now the ones that are producing the eggs in their small flock. On average, she collects 2 to 3 eggs a day, more then enough for her family and neighbors.

Helana Scappaticci of Plymouth says her eggs taste better then the ones she gets at the store. “They are fresher, taste so much better and are much better for you,” Scappaticci says.

“I send my son out to get eggs and we make them right then,” says Scappaticci. “They taste so good.”

Scappaticci and Fetzer agree that knowing what their chickens eat and how they live make them feel better about eating the eggs their chickens produce. 

“We feed the hens organic food,” Fetzer says. “I know my hens are organic and their eggs have no added hormones or anything. Plus, they eat my kitchen leftovers.”

According to Fetzer, Mrs. Lakenvelders favorite food is blueberries.

While chicken keeping is new to Ann Arborites, Michigan has more then it’s fair share of chicken keepers. At La Bubadies online chicken forum at , the Michigan thread has over 12000 comments.

Even the by-product of chickens, their manure, has its benefits. According to La Bubadie, their manure provides a great nitrogen-rich addition to any compost heap.  

It appears that many chicken farmers enjoy the entertainment their chickens provide. Nick Strayer, 15, has had chickens since he was 8. Each chicken has a name and he has no problem telling you who is nice and who is not so friendly. 

Most will eat from his hand, and sit on his shoulder while he does chores. According to Strayer, they are quite entertaining. (See photo right)

“I just enjoy watching them, they always are doing something,” says Strayer. 

Strayer who lives in Chelsea, Mich. has a mix of bantams and large chickens. “I think the bantams are funny and really active,” says Strayer. “But I want larger chickens next time.” 

Chickens are no match to predators; fox, opossums, racoons and dogs all consider chicken a good meal. “I lost 10 one weekend from a ‘possum. It was really bad,” says Strayer. 

Keeping chickens safe is the most important thing for urban chicken farmers to consider. While fox are not often seen in Ann Arbor,  dogs, opossums and racoons are. A safe coop must be built. 

Examples of Chicken Coops from simple to elaborate

Many sources of coops can be found on the internet. The site has several local people who build coops. Coops range from simple to complex. No matter what they look like, as long as they protect the hens from predators, bad weather and cold breezes, they work.

Other then a good coop, feed with added calcium is needed as well as a source of clean water. In Southeastern Michigan, a heated waterer is needed in the winter. 

Tractor Supply in Whitmore Lake has supplies for chickens. They just got chicks in this past weekend. They are for sale, 6 at a time. “They are straight run, however.” says the store manager. 

“We’ll be out of chicks by this weekend I think,” she says. Straight run means that you take your chances- you can get males or females. This poses problems for Ann Arborites, who must only house hens.

Pullets, female chickens are in demand and often much harder to get then straight run chickens. Pullets range in price from about $2 to over $5 for a day old chick, whereas their male counterparts are often half that price. 

Kimberely Emmert raises chicks to sell. About an hour north of Ann Arbor in Linden, she hatches out several batches of chickens each spring. Every chick is sold by the first weekend she advertises and people still want more. “I just love my chickens,” says Emmert. “I guess everyone else does, too.”

Fetner and a few friends ordered their chicks from McMurrys Hatchery, one of the most popular hatcheries, and a source of "Mail order chickens".

As of April 20th, McMurrys had no pullets available. The first date pullets will be available is mid June. This does not surprise too many. According to Thomas Kriese who host Urban Chickens and has a Facebook page dedicated to keeping chickens, there is a shortage this year. 

There is one other problem with mail order chicks-the number that must be shipped in order to ensure a survival rate.

McMurrys ship a minimum of 25 chicks per order to ensure survival. Chicks are only a day old when shipped, and very fragile.

Tammy Fisher, a teacher in Ann Arbor has ordered chicks for her class to raise. For her last batch a few years ago, she had a bit of a surprise when the chicks arrived.

"On ordering the chicks the hatchery told us to expect 20 percent to die. So, we ordered the minimum 25. Since it was really cold that February, they sent us 32- thinking attrition might be greater then 20 percent," says Fisher.

"I guess we are good chicken farmers- only two died. So, we ended up with 30 chicks that needed homes." Fisher says she had quite a few chicks turned chickens living in her garage before she found homes for the rest. 

It is possible to buy hens that are already laying. Kids will often sell their chickens after the 4-H fair is finished in July. You can even find them on Craigslist. 

The A2citychicken , a web site dedicated to chicken farmers in the Arbor Area can direct you to many local sources for chickens that are already laying, coops and advice for keeping hens in the Ann Arbor area. 

If you want to learn more about urban chicken keeping, you might want to check out Keep Chickens- a comprehensive guide to keeping chickens in urban settings. 

Want to keep hens in Ann Arbor? Click here for a permit!

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